Scott Dunn of Buxton gets ready for Maine Maple Weekend, March 27 and 28. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Pandemic protocols have poured over into the upcoming Maine Maple Weekend, canceling traditional pancake breakfasts and other activities, but most sugar shacks will be open to sell syrup and other maple treats.

The 38th annual event is set for Saturday, March 27, and Sunday, March 28.

Many farms are cutting back on traditional Maple Weekend activities to comply with state pandemic guidelines, said Scott Dunn of Buxton, president of Maine Maple Producers Association. The pandemic forced the cancellation of maple events last year and has caused planning for this event to be stressful, he said.

Mark Cooper of Windham displays the traditional method of collecting sap in a pail. Robert Lowell / American Journal

“Losing Maple Sunday really hurt last year,” Dunn said. “This event is critical to the success of many family businesses and producers in Maine.”

In past years, thousands have flocked to sugarhouses at the end of March to kick off spring, sample some syrup and spend some money.

“It was organized chaos before. Now, you really have to pay attention to how you’re operating,” Dunn said.

Many producers will offer some form of curbside service. Six-foot distancing, masks and contact tracing will apply to those heading inside the maple syrup facilities.

The store at Merrifield Farm in Gorham is open to sell syrup, maple candy and other products but won’t be hosting its annual pancake breakfast this weekend.

The Merrifields usually attract 4,000 or more visitors on the weekend.

“Try to control that,” said Jo-Ann Merrifield, vice president of the Maple Producers Association.

In Windham, Mark Cooper, of Coopers Maple Products, is foregoing its pancake breakfast this year, too. Cooper, a director of the producers association, said they have in the past served pancakes to 1,000 customers but this year to meet pandemic guidelines they could have served only 30 people a day.

Mark Cooper of Windham with the evaporator where his maple sap is boiled down to produce syrup. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner will host a French toast breakfast both days; it will be available to take out or eat in the on-site pavilion. Reservations are required.

Most sugarbush tours have been canceled, as well.

“Most places are not going to have activities,” Merrifield said.

More than 575,000 gallons of maple syrup is produced annually in Maine, generating more than $27 million for the Maine economy and supporting more than 560 full-time and part-time jobs that generate more than $17.3 million in wages, according to the Maine Maple Producers.

Maine usually ranks third in the nation for maple syrup production, after Vermont and New York.

The syrup is produced by boiling down sap collected from tree taps that flow into pails, or gravity-fed tubes that run from tree to tree. The clear liquid is then processed in evaporators. Forty gallons of sap are needed to produce just one gallon of maple syrup.

The shelves are stocked with syrup at Dunn Family Maple in Buxton. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Pandemic rules will limit the public’s access to watching the sap-boiling process.

Cooper will allow entry to one family at a time to see the boiling process, but Dunn said this he year he won’t be allowing anyone into his sugarhouse.

Andrew Bucher at Maple Hill Enterprises in Durham will be open Saturday but will restrict the entry to his sugarhouse to a couple of people at a time. Visitors may roam his farm and see his chickens, he said.

At least one maple syrup producer, Parsons Maple Products in Gorham, won’t be open this weekend.

Bob Parsons said his facility can’t deal with pandemic protocols because it’s not set up for it.

“I’m not going to have a crowd of people,” Parsons said.

Before venturing out for Maine Maple Weekend, visitors should go to mainemapleproducers.com for contact information, hours of operation and updates.

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